Joe Henry's sensual, seductive, warmly melodic music is deceptive: the people who inhabit his songs are filled with deceit, self-hatred, insecurity, distrust, and debilitating desire. As with his last few efforts, on Henry's new album, Fuse (Mammoth), his fractured images overlap and collapse into vague, often beautiful meanings. You have to love lines like, "My love is like a mountain, her mouth is like a mine / Incubating diamonds as we rise and shine," but the interpretation is a little slippery--and that couplet, from "Angels," is about as straightforward as they come on this record. On the instrumental side, Fuse takes another step away from the country rock Henry explored with various Jayhawks on albums like Short Man's Room and Kindness of the World; here he plays up the restrained R & B that's always been at least a latent presence in his work. His dusky, elegant voice is a natural for the sophisticated low-key funk of "Want Too Much," a nugget about romantic obsession, and when he uses it more forcefully, as on "Like She Was a Hammer," the uneasy myopia of the narrator becomes all the more pronounced. Although I sometimes miss Henry's more rootsy days, the cool sleekness of his current work is a perfect psychological match for the contemporary yet eternal quandaries his characters face. Josh Rouse opens. Sunday, 9 PM, and Monday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. PETER MARGASAK
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Melanie Nissen.